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Chainsaw sculpture competition begins on Barker’s Island

Chris Kuehn shapes the antlers on a sculpture of a whitetail buck at the Lake Superior Chainsaw Sculpture Championship on Barker’s Island on Thursday. The event continues through Sunday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

The cannon blasted at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Slowly, the hum of chainsaws roared to life as competitors from around the region and world made the first tentative cuts into 24-inch diameter, 8-foot symmetrical logs.

Others made bolder cuts, stripping away wide bands of wood as Superior’s first-ever Lake Superior Chainsaw Sculpture Competition got underway Thursday morning on Barker’s Island.

Ten master carvers will be judged on theme, correctness of form, consistency of the finish, originality and composition — the wow factor and degree of difficulty.

Correctness of form can be really hard to judge for, said judge and organizer Brad Keseluk of Sidelines Bar near Lake Minnesuing. He said while some carvers go for realism, others like caricature.

“A guy was carving a Sasquatch, it was an awesome piece … but he had two left feet,” Keseluk said of a competitor judged at an event in Georgia. “I was the only judge who saw it.”

Competitors and guest carvers have traveled from Japan, Ireland, Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Wisconsin for the competition.  

John Hayes, a master carver from Waterford, Ireland, competing this weekend, said it was “luck” that got him started in chainsaw carving.

“I used to build stages for shows, for entertainment,” Hayes said. “I got asked to make a big old wooden vase. So I looked on YouTube, how they did it with chainsaws.”

He said it looked dangerous, but he got a chainsaw and did it, only to have people tell him he was good at it. From there, he started making birthday and wedding presents for people before getting involved in smaller competitions in the United Kingdom, Europe and Canada. He started chainsaw carving about four years ago, and has been doing it professionally for the last two years.

“And now I’m here,” Hayes said. “You have to kind of pinch yourself a little bit. It’s one of those things that I didn’t know I could do, and now I love doing it. It’s just one of them journeys … to go from the smaller shows to the big one here.”

Lisa Doeren, a guest carver during the competition, said she was introduced to carving by her husband and one of four competition judges, Jamie Doeren. Lisa, of Abrams, Wisconsin, said while he’s been carving for about 30 years, a friend and woman carver helped her get started.

“She was keeping our shop open while Jamie was traveling, and she kept trying to get me to carve every day,” Lisa Doeren said. So eight years ago, she finally gave it a shot, and was carving by the time her husband got home. About four years ago, she started carving full time.

“It’s just being able to use my creativity to produce something, a complete work of art,” Doeren said. “Just making things that make people smile. It’s really fulfilling.”

Guest carvers on the perimeter of the competition to create and interact with the crowd during the four-day competition. Their creations will be auctioned off at at 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, and 6:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11.

“I got bored one day,” said Justin Driver, a guest carver from Kentucky. He said he was our clearing land when he decided to carve a wolf in the timber. “I thought it looked like a wolf.”

That was four years ago. He said while he’s a guest carver at the Superior competition, he recently competed in Scandinavia, Wisconsin. He likes the camaraderie of the carving competitions.

“Back home, when you talk about carving, people said, ‘enough already,’” he said, which makes it fun to hang out with other carvers.

The competition on Barker’s Island runs through Sunday with events running from 10 a.m. to about 7 p.m. daily. Admission is $7 per day or $12 for a weekend pass. Tickets are available at the gate.

Judging in the 23-hour timed master begins at 1 p.m. Sunday with an auction of all the master carvings at 4 p.m.

Proceeds from the event support the Tavern League of Douglas County Foundation’s charitable giving. 

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